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Deuteronomy the last book

Parshat Devarim

Deuteronomy 1:1 -3:22

We begin the last book of the Torah this week, Devarim also known as Deuteronomy.  In scholarly circles there has always been a lot of discussion about this book of the Bible including a reference in the book of 2 Kings about its discovery during the reign of King Josiah by Hilkiah the High Priest.   Some scholars see this book of the Torah and the covenantal outline detailed by Moses as documents used to justify King Josiah’s reformation and centralization.  But other scholars see this book of the Bible as a way to elevate Moses to the realm of a prophet.

The Book of Deuteronomy is at its core a law-book.  Even though it is dressed as Moses’ last oration to the Children of Israel before his death on Mt. Nebo and before the Children of Israel cross over the Jordan River to the Promised Land, Deuteronomy is filled with the laws of the covenant and some of which are restated from other sections of the Torah, such as a second version of the Ten Commandments. 

But let’s look at this week’s portion from a more literary and spiritual view. This week’s Torah portion begins by a review of the journey from Mt. Sinai to the steppes of Moab. This is important because the generation that was at Sinai is not the generation that is about to enter the Promised Land.  Moses reminds them that their parents doubted God, complained and believed the reports of the scouts that the land was filled people stronger than they.  Moses tells this new generation born in the wilderness the story of how they got to the edge of the land of Israel and in doing so is able to reinforce Joshua’s leadership as the successor. 

But this story of origins is also important because I think Moses wants to make sure that the doubts that this generation may have of God and covenant don’t get the best of them.  They are preparing to enter the Land.  Even though Moses won’t be with them Moses wants to assure them that God will be with them “Indeed Adonai your God has blessed you in all your undertakings. God has watched over your wandering through this great wilderness, Adonai your God has been with you these past forty years. You have lacked nothing (2:7).”

Moses wants to inspire the Israelites to their task and to reinforce the idea that God is with them now as God has been with Children of Israel for the entire time since Egypt.  This is as critical a message today as it was then. 

The question is can we hear it? Can we hear this notion and believe that God is with us?  But even as Jewish tradition teaches God is outside, we also assert God is within—in our very breath as God put the breath of life in the first human being.  Our very souls are part of the eternal fabric of the Universe that we call God and links all humanity one to the other.  This assertion that God is with us then and now reaches its peak in Deuteronomy and will be asserted in next week’s portion, V’etchanan as we assert God’s oneness through the words of the Shema!